New Utah bigamy law passes Senate after ‘Sister Wives’ suit


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(CNN) By the narrowest of margins, a bill expanding Utah’s anti-bigamy law passed the state Senate just before a midnight deadline Thursday.

The bill changes the wording of what makes someone a bigamist in the state and adds penalties for cases that involve abuse, fraud and human trafficking, according to the text of the bill.

Kody Brown and his four wives, the stars of the reality TV show “Sister Wives,” sued Utah in 2011, saying its law was unconstitutional. The polygamists won in US District Court in 2013 but the decision was overturned on appeal last year.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah state Rep. Mike Noel, a Republican, proposed changes to the anti-bigamy law after reviewing the Brown case. His goal with rewording the law is to avoid any potential lawsuits, he told CNN affiliate KTSU in February.

The law would now say that a person is guilty of bigamy if he or she lives with a purported spouse while legally married to someone else. The current law says bigamy occurs when a married man weds someone “spiritually” or when he cohabitates with someone.

The bill, HB99, also says that in cases where domestic or sexual abuse and other factors occur, the crime becomes a second-degree felony, instead of third-degree. It exempts those who leave bigamous relationships because of fear for their safety or because they are a minor.

Passed by one vote

The Browns, who moved to Nevada to avoid prosecution, told the Tribune that polygamists in Utah might go further underground.

“My concern is all this is going to do is drive the good polygamous people who don’t have those abuses more into hiding, and it’s going to make the people who do have those abuses just be able to do them even more,” Meri Brown, one of Kody Brown’s “spiritual” wives, told the newspaper.

HB99 passed at 11:55 p.m. Thursday by a bipartisan 15-14 vote. The measure, which passed the Utah House last month, now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert, who has not said whether he will sign it.

The Dargers, a polygamist family who live in Utah, said on Facebook the new bill is a ”huge step backwards.”
“This clearly targets plural Mormon families. This clearly targets free speech. This clearly is a bill of religious discrimination,” the Dargers said.

The sponsor of the bill in the state Senate, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, a Republican, implored fellow legislators to pass the bill to give police officers “the tools that we need on very severe cases,” CNN affiliate KSL reported.

According to KTSU, the office of Utah’s attorney general has said it will prosecute polygamy cases only if they involve other crimes.

One Comment

  • Tracy Rossi says:

    Absolutely ridiculous in every way! Legislation for abuse and assaults already protects individuals of all ages for specific criminal acts. Bigamy and Polygamy laws are moral canons aimed at legislating how individuals choose to love and live. What’s worse is that these laws directly discriminate against fundamentalist Mormons; clearly persecuting people for religious beliefs. Are government authorities going to prosecute every instance where “a person is guilty of bigamy [or polygamy] if he or she lives with a purported spouse while legally married to someone else” regardless of denomination?

    Under these parameters individuals living together in any form of committed plural relationship are subject to the same penalties. I know several couples who salvaged marriages damaged by adultery by flexing their relationship to allow for plural living arrangements or open marriages. The difference is merely semantics. How will the government deal with common law marriage statutes in relation to polygamy? How will the state and Fed deal with open marriages? What about plural relationships trying to work around the new “fluid sexuality” situation?

    There is no end to litigation and crime when governments try to legislate sexuality and relationships. The conversation should be about ethics and not morality. Prosecute criminal acts, not consensual sexual and relationship acts posing no threat other than individual sensibility. Not only is such legislation discriminatory, it is a blatant misuse of tax payer money. Every new law or amendment costs millions of dollars to discuss, argue, legislate and update legal codes. Total nonsense.

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